Vallejo police union appeals recent court decision

The Vallejo Police Officer’s Association is appealing a February court decision on a lawsuit against the city surrounding cuts to health benefits.

The cuts were imposed as part of the city’s plan to exit bankruptcy — with tens of millions of dollars in potential retiree medical liabilities at stake in the lawsuit.

The VPOA filed the appeal in late April, and hired a new law firm to represent the union in the process.

The attorneys argued that the city could not change the retirement benefits at the end of a contract.

“You do work in expectation of compensation,” said attorney David E. Mastagni, of Mastagni Holstedt, A.P.C. “If you can only be bound for the two-year period, that doesn’t make sense, because you’re negotiating the benefit in the future.”

Or, as attorney David P. Mastagni put it, “It’s just like you are buying horse race tickets based on the odds and they change the odds after the horses have been released.”

The long legal battle is rooted in negotiations between the city and the police union during and after the 2008 bankruptcy filing.

Part of the plan for maintaining fiscal stability was reducing contributions to employee and retiree health plan premiums to $300 a month.

In 2009, the union’s proposal for the city to pay the entirety of the health premium forever was rejected by the city.

According to the city, the agreed contract made no promises regarding retiree health benefits after the contract’s expiration date on June 30, 2012.

On Dec. 16, 2013, the council voted to impose some of the city’s final offer, including the $300 per month cap on health benefits.

In February, Solano County Superior Judge Paul Beeman said that based on the 2009 agreement between the city and the VPOA, the union has not “met its heavy burden” of making a “clear showing” that the city intended to provide medical benefits at the full amount. Beeman also rejected the union’s claim that the city engaged in “surface bargaining.”

The Vallejo City Attorney’s office declined to comment for this article.

Contact Irma Widjojo at 707-553-6835.